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Koyaanisqatsi is a 1983 Godfrey Reggio film. There is no obvious plot or story, there are no actors, there is no dialog. The whole film is just time lapse footage of nature, people, or machines with music composed by Philip Glass. Despite the synopsis sounding dull, the film is mesmerizing. The film starts with beautiful footage of the desert and natural rock formations. From there human work is more and more evident. The middle section of the film is about the hustle and bustle of modern life. Towards the end, the film focuses on people of different walks of life. The last sequence is a failed rocket launch in slow motion.
It is the first part of a "qatsi" trilogy, it is followed by Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi.
If the name sounds familiar, the title song is used whenever the Janitor delivers a Death Glare. The pieces "Pruitt-Igoe" and "Prophecies" that were written for this film are probably better known to the current flock of 20-to-30-somethings as the accompaniment to Jon Osterman's transformation into Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, or from the GTA IV trailer.
Reggio's cinematographer Ron Fricke went on to make Chronos (in IMAX) and Baraka, both of which have obvious similarities to the "qatsi" films.
This film provides examples of:
- Book Ends: At the very beginning of the movie we see a rocket take off, and at the end of the movie, it explodes.
- More subtly, the rocket first seen taking off cuts to a Saturn V successfully launching an Apollo mission; the rocket leaving the launch pad at the end is also a Saturn V, but this is then replaced by the original, doomed rocket.
- Death Glare - One scene has people pass the camera in slow motion. Some people give the camera a nasty look.
- Foreign Language Title - "Koyaanisqatsi" is a Hopi word meaning life out of balance. Powaqatsi means life in transformation and Naqoyqatsi means life of killing each other (sometimes translated as life as war).
- Green Aesop - Though the film itself doesn't make it explicit, the translation of the title gives it away.
- Humans Are Bastards - again, it's more of a subliminal feeling you get watching it.
- Reggio completely refutes this idea. It's completely in the head of the viewer.
- Leave the Camera Running - While most of the film has interesting shots, though many find that the scene with the taxiing jets stretches on too long (two and a half minutes, all one shot--the longest shot in the whole picture).
- Lost Aesop: the film doesn't make it explicit, but that's part of the point.
- Older Than They Think: Many viewers think the exploding rocket was the space shuttle Challenger, which was destroyed three years after this movie came out. The explosion filmed was with an unmanned Navy Atlas rocket, about 20 years earlier.
- Ominous Latin Chanting - Well, Ominous Hopi Chanting.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: During the title track.
- Overcrank - People walking by, the demolitions of housing projects.
- Pop Culture Osmosis: For example, in Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder episode of The Simpsons reference has a high speed time lapse of a day in Homer's bedroom when he oversleeps.
- Scenery Porn
- Scenery Gorn - Pruitt-Igoe, in particular.
- Shout-Out: Madonna's video for "Ray of Light".
- Silence Is Golden, a very rare modern instance.
- Slow Motion
- Soundtrack Dissonance - Particularly at the end.
- Stock Footage - Used for the demolition scenes; also nuclear tests, the Vietnam War, and and the rocket destruction at the end.
- TV documentaries and commercials sometimes use the movie as a source of stock footage.
- Stuff Blowing Up - the stock footage above.
- Under Crank - The factory assembly lines and masses of people are sped up, as are clouds in most of the nature shots.
- Technology Marches On: Believe it or not, time lapse photography was relatively new and few people ever experienced it at this scale.
- Time Compression Montage
- Time Lapse - Most of the footage.
- The Seventies - Filmed then, but only released in The Eighties.
- Unintentional Period Piece, and all the better for it.